David’s story starts with seven brothers standing in a line to be chosen. This is a familiar scene to most of us; we’ve stood in these kinds of lines from time to time.
We do it first – and most literally – as little kids. It’s time for P.E. and we’re choosing teams for kickball. We’re standing against the chainlink fence, waiting for our names to be called. We know who’s going to get picked first: that kid – that boy – who stands tall, who moves quickly, who never does something awkward like tripping and falling.
After that is a predictable line of choices, in descending level of athletic ability. Boys who have had a growth spurt, followed by girls who are particularly agile, followed by the kids who would rather be inside in the air conditioning, followed by the quietest ones who sometimes get forgotten. Then finally at the end is some girl nicknamed “Grace” for ironic reasons. A girl with glasses and braces and feet two sizes too big for her height.
(Okay, yes – me. Fourth grade was not my best year.)
In the end, we could have saved ourselves some time; before we even left the classroom we knew who was going to be picked first and who would be lonely last.
As we get older we stop literally standing in a row to be chosen, but we participate in these lineups nonetheless. Homecoming court. College admissions. Job applications. Board memberships. Social invitations. And just like the schoolyard, we have a sense for who will be chosen first. We know who will have a tiara placed on her head, or be admitted to the Ivy League school; who will be asked to chair the board and invited to all the best parties. After a while, it becomes predictable. We can look at a picture of high school students and – without knowing any one of them personally – pick out the tan, muscular, confident captain of the team.
But sometimes, every now and then, life surprises us with the unexpected choice. Sometimes the captain of the football team isn’t that teenage boy with an easy smile, but a three-year-old fighting cancer.
Korbin Smaith was diagnosed with neuroblastoma – a form of childhood cancer – at just nine months old. Over the past three years, his struggle has become our community’s struggle. Many people in our town of Andrews are like me: I don’t personally know Korbin or his parents, but my heart aches for his family. I hurt wondering how I would feel if this were one of my small children. I grieve for a tender life shortly lived. Korbin died a week ago today at the heartbreaking age of 3 and it feels like the whole county is mourning.
It’s obvious, though, that Korbin’s short life will have a lasting impact around here. This picture is just one example: this fall, the Andrews High School football team made him their honorary captain for a game. On that night the team wasn’t lead by an eighteen-year-old athlete, but a three-year-old little boy. On that night, Andrews, NC looked a little more like the Kingdom of God, because the littlest was chosen to be a leader.
Just like King David.
Samuel is sent to Bethlehem select a new king for Israel. He knows it will be one of Jesse’s sons, so he starts with the obvious choice: Eliab, the oldest – a good looking, tall boy. This must be it!
But it’s not him. “Don’t judge by his appearance,” God says. “I don’t. Look at what I’m looking at: the heart.”
So they go down the line. Abinadab, next oldest? No. Shammah, the third in line? Not him either. From here, the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh sons are brought out. They are so much less significant, so far off the radar that we aren’t even told their names. But it’s not any one of them, either.
Then who is it? Is anyone left?
Well, there’s the eighth son. He’s out with the boring, small-responsibility job of tending the sheep. No one thought to bring him, because no one thought there was any chance he’d be chosen.
This little boy – who turns out to be rather ruddy and handsome – is called into the scene. It’s only then that we learn his name:
In a surprise twist, it’s the name of the eighth son that we won’t soon forget.
This is how the Kingdom of God works; it surprises us by choosing the least and the littlest for important roles. Later, another King – also in the line of David – would state this explicitly. He said it after a rich young man declined his invitation to give away all his possessions. He said it again after telling a parable about workers in a vineyard who put in differing hours but got paid the same wages.
“Those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last” (Matthew 20:16).
This is how the Kingdom of God works.
But the world resists this reversal of order; the world still wants to put us in line in the same predictable way.
From your position in the world’s line, you can probably see some people in front of you. As you look up the line, it’s hard not to view them as bigger and better: they are rich and beautiful and smart and strong and popular. The world loves them for that.
From your position in line, you may also see some people behind you. As you look down the line at them, it’s tempting to view them as small, weak, insignificant – the ones who will never be chosen.
But that’s not how God sees them.
God doesn’t see brain or brawns or beauty; God sees the heart, which mixes the whole order of the line up. Eighth sons are chosen to be king. Three-year-olds are football captains. The last are first.
Our King is Jesus Christ, and our kingdom is the Kingdom of God. As its citizens, we are challenged to see beyond appearance to the heart. We know that the first can be last and the last can be first. We work to love and respect each other in an unconventional way that makes a mess of this line the world wants us in.